Companies 'try to co-opt sector'

Campaigners need to be more aware of the tactics used by companies to discredit their messages, according to a new booklet from Spinwatch.

Spinning the Wheels: a Guide to the PR and Lobbying Industry in the UK reveals some of the methods companies use to shape opinion and policy, such as co-opting charities.

David Miller, director of Spinwatch - a non-profit company that monitors PR tactics - said NGOs should expect a variety of responses to their campaigns from the PR industry. "The problem is that many of the tactics and tools they use are difficult to spot," he said.

Miller added that charities were more aware of being targeted since Toby Kendall, who volunteered under a false name with the anti-aviation group Plane Stupid this year, was found to be an employee of risk-management company C2i.

A section on the dangers of being co-opted quotes promotional material used by PR firm Edelman that advises bodies that are developing strategies for responding to environmental disasters to consult Greenpeace.

"Co-opting your would-be attackers may seem counterintuitive, but it makes sense - NGOs are trusted by the public by nearly two-to-one compared with government bodies, media organisations and corporations," it says.

The Spinwatch booklet will be launched at a debate on transparency in the lobbying industry at the Labour Party conference next Monday. The debate has been set up by the Alliance for Lobbying Transparency, a coalition of 15 charities and NGOs including ActionAid and Friends of the Earth. The Public Administration Select Committee's inquiry into lobbying will finish in the next two months.

Dominic Eagleton, policy analyst at ActionAid, said: "Multinational companies have an undue influence on the policy-making process and campaigning charities need to be aware of it."

WHAT TO LOOK OUT FOR

- Beware of 'independent' scientists and think tanks using you to promote messages. Who funds them?

- If campaigners have overwhelming evidence on their side, corporations try to confuse the issue. A tobacco industry PR company in the 60s told its staff to emphasise 'controversy' and 'contradiction' over health risks

- Beware of companies portraying their clients as victims, not perpetrators, during crises such as oil spills

- Remember the rule: the best PR is never noticed.

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